For most jockeys, an opportunity to race in Hong Kong would be a dream come true.
But when Callan Murray jets off to the world’s most lucrative racing arena at the end of next month for a second stint, it’s not mission accomplished. On the contrary.
“Going to Hong Kong was always one of my goals,” the 21-year-old said in an exclusive interview with Tellytrack. “Last time I did a short stint,” he said, referring to his two months in Hong Kong last year in which he rode two Grade 3-winners.
“My goal this time round is to be really successful.”
According to Murray, of his 100-odd rides in his first season in Hong Kong, only 10 were backed at 10-1 and under. This, however, could change drastically in future after the exit of some of the stalwarts from Hong Kong. “There’s definitely a big void to fill with so many great jockeys having left,” said Murray.
It has been widely reported that jockeys Joao Moreira, Tommy Berry, Brett Prebble and Olivier Doleuze have departed. Between them they have ridden more than 2 000 Hong Kong winners and their departure has opened up a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for youngsters like Murray to make their mark in a racing community hungry for new heroes.
Murray reckons his biggest challenge to getting quality rides is promoting himself with the trainers. With jockeys not officially affiliated to trainers in Hong Kong, the freelance system definitely doesn’t favour the young, lesser-known jockeys. But thanks to his successful first spell, as well as the success of other South African jockeys in Hong Kong, he is looking forward to many more visits to the winner’s enclosure.
“South African jockeys have been very successful in Hong Kong over the years,” said Murray, “and they definitely opened some doors for us youngsters.”
Despite being one of just a handful of young jockeys granted a licence to race by the Hong Kong Jockey Club from 1 August, Murray remains true to himself – and humble – a remarkable characteristic considering that champion jockeys over there enjoy celebrity status unheard of in South Africa.
He laughs as he recalls how he got a small tattoo on his hand during a December vacation in Cape Town. The tattoo, he admits, is something he has always desired, and thanks to some good mates, and a bit of Dutch courage – he now sports a discreet new “trademark”.
“It’s an important symbol for me. Its represents a never-ending cycle and I decided on the design because I am close to my family and friends. It’s a way for me to take them with me when I travel overseas.”
While the racing community is notoriously close-knit, maintaining a circle of friends outside the fraternity is important to Murray.
“Yes, I’m very close to Zackey and Dillon, but I also maintain my friendships outside of racing. It’s good to maintain balance in my life. I’m also lucky to have some good friends from school. It’s quite amazing, considering I left after Grade 10 to go to the academy. After I finished at the academy it was great that I could reconnect with my school mates.”
Before he heads off to Hong Kong, Murray will take a shot at the Vodacom Durban July aboard Majestic Mambo. Murray described Paul Peter’s Majestic Mambo as “a tardy starter who doesn’t put himself in the race”. He is also concerned about the travelling back and forth after finishing a close second in the R2 million Daily News 2000 at Greyville at the beginning of June.
If Murray does get the best out of Majestic Mambo, he will undoubtedly be the pick of the crop of young riders in Hong Kong come August.
Watch Julie Alexander’s full interview with Callan Murray on Breeding to Win, Sunday 17 June at 20:00 on Tellytrack on channel 239 on DStv.